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Hunting heritage in Pa. is unmatched

As I sat and wrote an article a few weeks prior to this one, I pondered why it seems so many more people hunt in Pennsylvania as opposed to other states I’ve visited and have lived in. Then I remembered a photo that hangs in my hallway.

I walk past the photo multiple times each day and often stop to admire the men within the frame. The photo itself is a keepsake because the fifth man standing from the left is my great-great-great-grandfather, Stephen Alexander Douglas McLain.

One time, when I peered at the photo, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something. As I looked deeper, aside from the men that are seemingly overdressed in comparison to the attire we wear when hunting today, I found that I was staring deeply into the face of the definition of tradition.

Many places all around the country and even around the world embrace the tradition of hunting. But I would venture to guess that few grasp so firmly to a tradition that carries such a rich history as the state of Pennsylvania.

Deep in the woods of Juniata County sometime in the mid to late 1800s these men embraced not only what would become a favorite pastime of generations to come, but what for them was a way of life. There were furs to be harvested, skinned, tanned and sold or traded. Meat to be skinned quartered, cured and stored for the remainder of the winter in order to feed their families.

Hunts weren’t measured by spur length of their turkeys, inches of antlers on their bucks, or even weight of their animals taken. Nine men hunted, success was success, and it meant more than a trophy. The animals you see in the picture were food and a future.

As I pondered some more I imagined not just the Juniata Valley being full of pop-up camps such as this one, but the entire state of Pennsylvania. These men knew what it was like to fully embrace Mother Nature and live off the land. These men, knowingly or not, were trailblazers for their children, grandchildren and yes, even their great-great-great-grandchildren.

So, what can we take away when we are able to use such photos to look back and glimpse into the past and what it was like to be a hunter way back when? Perhaps pride for not just themselves but for all the hunting generations to come? The fact is I don’t really know what all can be learned from this simple picture, but maybe you will.

I’m not exactly certain what stones these men may have placed in the foundation of Pennsylvania hunting that we enjoy today, but I’ve always been one to believe that in order to fully understand where we are in today’s world, we have to know where we’ve been.

Hunt hard, Hunt safe, and shoot straight, friends.

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John Knouse writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.

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